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Meeting Challenges of a Huge Population

Maintaining a low birth rate will remain a difficult task for some time in the world's most populous country, said Zhao Baige, vice minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission. She said that a number of other problems are appearing that require research into population strategy and immediate responses.

Zhao made the remarks at a press conference held by the Information Office of the State Council Thursday.

The commission has put in place nationwide the Girl Care Project to teach people to abandon their traditional preference for male children. They hope gradually to normalize the nation's unbalanced birth ratio, which is currently 117 boys to 100 girls born. A normal newborn sex ratio is 103 to 107 boys for 100 girls.

Additionally, the central government is starting a pilot program in some rural areas. It will give 1,200 yuan (US$144) annually to parents who have two girls, one-child parents and those with a disabled child, when they reach 60 years of age. The project is scheduled to be expanded nationwide next year.

This project will also help China set up a comprehensive social assurance system to help one-child families better look after parents in an aging society. In 2000, China had 88.3 million people over 65, who accounted for 7 percent of the total population.

In rural areas, the majority of the elderly parents still depend on support from their children instead of a national social welfare system.

In keeping the birth rate low, China has employed a multivariate family planning policy for the past 30 years, rather than uniformly applying the one-child policy. Generally, urban families can only have one child; rural parents whose first child is a girl can have another. Ethnic minority  mothers are permitted to have three or more children. For example, in the Tibet Autonomous Region, there are no birth limitations at all, Zhao said.

The government does not force people to cooperate in terms of contraception for family planning, but fully respects their human rights, said Zhao. China has 240 million women of childbearing age, 83 percent of whom use various contraception methods for family planning. It would be unimaginable for the government to enforce family planning on so many people, Zhao pointed out.

The induced abortion rate in China is 28 percent, slightly over the 25 percent of the United States.

Women have various options in contraception. About 48 percent use intrauterine devices, 36 percent have tubal ligations and the majority of the rest take oral contraceptives or have partners who use condoms.

The migrant population is another enormous problem, with somewhere between 120 million and 140 million people -- one-tenth of the entire population -- on the move. Action is being taken to ensure they are afforded equal rights in employment, insurance, health care and children's education, especially in the larger cities.

The family planning commission's 120,000 reproductive health technicians and more than 1 million women volunteers for family planning will play a vital role in preventing the HIV virus from spreading through sexual contact and mother-to-infant channels. Remarkable progress has already been made in eight provinces, with the help of the United Nations, in promoting the use of condoms and stemming other channels of transmission.

China has 840,000 HIV/AIDS sufferers and is witnessing an annual rate of increase of 32 percent, according to the Ministry of Health.

(China Daily July 16, 2004)

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Regional Imbalances Emerge in Population Growth
Baby Gender Checkup Strictly Controlled
Aging Population on the Rise
12.7 Million More Boys Than Girls Under Nine
Population Problems Loom
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